“Come see me.”
words stuck out in bold type on the plain white background of the e-mail Bobbi had sent me three days earlier. It was Friday, and I had just come back from a 6-day hiatus from work.
Last week, she had contested the three extra days of vacation I had scheduled nearly a year in advance to coincide
with the Labor Day weekend. I was asked why I had scheduled time off when I knew
I had training to complete for our company’s Client. My response - that
at the time I requested vacation, there had been no such training scheduled - flew like a lead balloon; I was responsible for the work regardless of when it was scheduled and should have anticipated the training
even when neither the Company nor the Client knew what they were doing four fiscal quarters in the future.
“Come see me.”
time on my computer as I sat in my cubicle read 7:47 AM, and although it indeed was a Friday, it felt more like Monday. About 200 E-mail sat in my inbox, a dozen or so from Bobbi. Apparently the “out of office until…” message fell upon blind eyes as the intensity of
her messages and inquiries increased with each passing day. Didn’t she know I was off? I thought to myself. I sat back in my padded steel, rubber and cloth chair thinking anecdotally about Sam, our old boss. The tone of her messages and conversations were always inclusive, even when chastising
one of us. When being corrected on the violation of one innumerable policy or
another, I always left her office smiling and feeling as though I would never break that rule again. Almost unconsciously, I wanted to justify her faith in me. But
now… Now? All I really wanted
to do was make it through each day without being summoned.
“Come see me.”
was fastidious in her standards and pragmatic in everything she did regardless of how often the policies and expectations
laid upon us changed. Just below vice president, Bobbi rarely saw or spoke to
us, her daily duties keeping her occupied in a series of endless meetings and international travel. That was before the “reduction in force” and the termination of our department’s supervisor
in mid-summer. With Bobbi’s demotion undoubtedly came loss of salary, esteem
and – more importantly – an increase of time. Time not spent in meetings
or on trips resulted in time spent managing the day-by-day, hour-by-hour operations of each and every person in the department. A lot of time, I thought. Where before I may have run into my boss two or, at most, three times a week, it was not uncommon to see
Bobbi two or three times a day, often more.
closed my eyes and leaned back in my chair, the center spring creaking softly but noticeably in the early morning quiet. The only other sound among the tiny cubicles was the buzz and drone of the Xerox copier
as it worked diligently printing off training documents for another trainer. The
office was often quiet in the morning as most employees did not arrive until 8:00 AM or shortly thereafter. It wasn't long, though, before I heard a now familiar voice break the otherwise quiet serenity with a question
I imagined was posed to the offender standing before the copier. The conversation
was muffled, but I strained carefully to hear the words.
you using the copier?”
the other trainer responded. There was a moment of silence. The printer droned on.
need handouts to give the new hires for training.”
was the wrong answer, I knew, but it was too late to warn the offender of his mistake.
Bobbi had once threatened to put a limit on the daily number of copies allowed on the printer by having IT issue individual
trainers logins and passwords on the Xerox machine. Twenty single sheet copies,
she felt, were more than enough to print in one day, and continued misuse of the photocopier was grounds for disciplinary
action. For a brief moment, I recalled the time I had been summoned into her
office to explain why I had used the mini yellow Post-It notes in class– she had counted and arranged them alphabetically in three small piles according to relevance
,although I cannot recall the exact number – and stuck them to the inside of the training room door. Regardless of the purpose, it was undoubtedly an unnecessary waste of Company resources and was never to
be repeated. Didn’t I know, she reminded me, how much Post-It notes cost?
said something unintelligible, then, and shortly I heard the sound of someone moving down the cubicle corridor. I sat up quickly, chair creaking loudly as I moved suddenly, and feigned paying attention to my e-mail.
there you are!” greeted a smiling Bobbi, peeking around the corner of the
mottled gray, prefabricated wall. “I need to talk to you.”
was not late, but I had the distinct impression that she had been searching for me intently all morning. Quietly I followed, stopping momentarily while she summoned one of my peers from behind her cubicle. Curiouser and curiouser, I thought. Together
we passed through the card-protected entry and made our way through another part of the building until we came to her office. Jaycee, the other employee, held a paper in her hand, and I felt my heartbeat quicken
as we all sat down, the door closed behind us.
must be the overtime, I said to myself. Though it was not the only issue
that potentially could be addressed, I sensed from the litany of e-mail I had scanned and deleted this morning that my overtime
from the previous week would be questioned. The Corporation had scheduled 59
hours of training classes that week, and Bobbi decided I was the best and only choice to work those hours. The vacation I had scheduled months before for the week prior to Labor Day was forgotten, but I had naively
imagined that my willingness to forego those days in order to cover for the department would make me something of a hero in
the boss's eyes. I had notified Bobbi by e-mail that I was going to be working
overtime with the hours she had scheduled and assumed, naturally, that she must have known.
Classes spanning from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM each day would mean extra hours at work.
seated, Bobbi tapped a few strokes on her keypad, then turned to face me, her earlier smile all but evaporated.
are you over here?” the conversation began, leaving me at an awkward loss for words.
“Why aren’t you at the other building finishing up training?”
Bobbi realized that I had vacation last week, she sent me an e-mail announcing that she would find someone else to complete
the training if necessary. She would have had me cancel my days off had it not
been for a Corporate policy barring me from carrying over vacation days from one year to the next. Since September 7th was my anniversary date, it was impossible for me not to take my remaining
time off as we both very well knew. She had no choice but to acquiesce to my
vacation request, through no fault of my own.
said I, drawing out my words in a puzzled tone, “someone else was going to
be assigned to finish?”
a sigh, Bobbi replied, “You know very well we don’t have anyone else to finish up.”
“OK. Well then, just let me know what you would like me to do and I’ll-“
need you to start taking the initiative,” she quickly admonished, “and not waiting to be told what to do. I had expected you to be over there this morning taking care of business.”
So, does this mean it’s not about the
overtime? I pondered inwardly.
want you to go over there this week and finish up training any agents who needed to be rescheduled.”
I replied, wishing I could leave right now.
for the next item,” she began, pointing toward the piece of paper my co-worker was holding, “we need to discuss
several concerns our Client had about what you trained last week.”
Now what? I moaned inwardly. I know the overtime thing’s coming sooner or later.
a litany of issues I had surprisingly already addressed and resolved with both the Client and our production supervisors,
my co-worker droned on and on, Bobbi stopping her after each item so I could provide an explanation in full as to why I had
failed to teach the right material. I felt my throat tightening with each unrehearsed
explanation as I strove in vain not to sound defensive.
our Client’s IT representative, was as self-absorbed and driven as anyone I had ever met. He fabricated an air of importance that clung to him like the scent of one of those pink cakes sitting
in the bottom of a public urinal and had a personality that brooked no room for error.
“Theodore” was the name that he used, yet that seemed far too pretentious to me, so I liked to dub him
“Teddy,” though not to his face. As Teddy sat in my first training
class on the new system to ensure everything met his expectations, he was appalled by the “sheer volume and intensity
of mistakes” in the training materials and promptly informed everyone he possibly could of the egregious misinformation. Although I had been exonerated later of personal blame for the lapses in training
material – a trainer is only as good as the training he or she receives, after all – it nonetheless publicly tarnished
my training reputation like a grape stain on a white shirt.
can only train as well as I’ve been trained,” I explained, peering afterward at my co-worker’s unreadable
face for support. “You sat in the same class I was in. You remember being told these things.”
words were met with silence.
woman only shook her head, that same dumb, silly, blank, open-mouthed stare on her face that I had witnessed at least a hundred
times before. I may as well have accused her of flying to the moon and returning
with green cheese as shocked, innocent and innocuous as her appearance was. She
was not helping my case.
and Bobbi had been friends for many, many years. When Bobbi had come to the Corporation
some years ago, she had brought over Jaycee and my former boss, Sam, with her from their previous employer. Like a brown-eyed, floppy-eared puppy sitting faithfully on her mistress’ lap, Jaycee was the loyal
sycophant of the department. Anything that anyone wanted repeated to management
was simply told to Jaycee; the news was certain to travel as fast as an instant message.
turned to Bobbi in silent protest of Jaycee's expression but received only a raised eyebrow and tilted head. Is this where the defeated soldier begs for quarter, I wondered?
reduction in force had taken everyone by surprise. Everyone, it would seem, except
Bobbi. It was interesting, I shared with others in the department soon after
hearing of the departure of our former boss. Bobbi stated in her first meeting
with us that “letting Sam go” was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.
Yet I was perplexed. If they were such close friends, I mused aloud here
and there, then why didn’t Bobbi step down and allow Sam to keep her job instead of accepting the demotion herself? It seems like not a wholly unreasonable thing to do for someone whom you publicly
proclaim as your best friend in all the world. Maybe I would have to ask Sam
about that if I ever ran into her again . . . I felt like a child twisting a
thin twig ever deeper into the hornet hive.
I explained, “Theodore already verified with the supervisors that what I taught was the same thing the Client trainer
told us. Everything wrong was cleared up by Tuesday.”
shook her head, her shoulder length, platinum blond hair outlining the weathered, wrinkled features of her long face. “If you knew you didn't have the right information going in, you should have
clarified it with someone. You had just as much time to learn it as everyone
else.” She turned to her computer, then, and began typing something before
turning back toward me. “Was there anything else you wanted to say before
we move along to the next item?”
just shook my head.
then,” she smiled, turning her computer monitor so I had a better view. I
knew what it was as soon as I glanced at her screen, a copy of last week's time card punches.
She may have gotten them from payroll although, I learned, she was never beyond actually looking up someone's time
card punches manually herself. It was an arduous, time consuming process, but
Bobbi was always up for the challenge. “Tell me, why did you have almost
nineteen hours of overtime last week?”
a trainer fired some time ago for excessive time card violations, was notorious for forgetting to clock in and out for lunches. He was one of the dedicated few, working perhaps as many as 60 or more hours per week
while being paid for only forty. It was easy, we all knew, to skip lunch punches
from time-to-time because most of the trainers worked during their lunch in order to get all of the day's operational tasks
complete. A seven and a half hour training class Monday through Friday only allowed
half hour a day for performing normally two hours worth of additional duties, and even occasional overtime was a ticket to
I threw my hands into the air, fighting desperately not to seem too sarcastic, “because you wrote the schedule?” I could have slapped myself silly.
solution to the overtime dilemma was to ignore any missed time card punches throughout the week, then willfully fail to punch
out for the day on Friday. By Monday morning when payroll would send e-mail notification
of the missed punch, he would simply add-up his hours through Thursday, then adjust
Friday's final punch so as to make an even forty hours. Dagmar was obviously
more concerned about going over forty hours than he was about working off the clock.
Although the latter was “officially” frowned upon - we all did it and everyone knew it. Of course, once Dagmar's patience in the department had begun to flag, our superiors needed some excuse
for terminating him, so this one served as well as any.
to face me directly in her chair, Bobbi proclaimed, “I never scheduled you for that many hours. Weren't you supposed to punch out for you breaks and lunches?”
it was policy to punch out for lunches, this was the first I had ever heard of doing so for breaks. I wonder what hibernation’s like I thought to myself.
she said, beginning to break down my schedule hour by hour, “you were scheduled eight to noon, but I see you clocked
in at 7:27 AM. What was the reason for that?”
say that Excel rosters and copies of training materials don't magically materialize by themselves may have been taken in the
wrong way, so I sought for a more appropriate softening of a training truth.
had to make copies for the morning class and create a spreadsheet for keeping Production informed of the ongoing progress.”
glanced at the next line on the screen. “Then, you didn't punch out until
12:14 PM. You only took a 40 minute lunch.
What did you do between 12:54 PM and one o'clock?”
minutes I counted in my head. Thirty-six hundred seconds. One, two, three, four, five, six.
recalled a time recently when I came to work and found my waste paper basket had been moved about a foot and a half to one
side. I always kept it along the wall just on the edge of my cubicle so as to
minimize the loss of any valuable square footage. Unconsciously, I returned the
basket back to its original position and thought nothing more about it. Arriving
to work the following day, I discovered that the basket had been moved once again, this time about two feet into my cubicle. I pondered whether or not the overnight cleaning crew had inadvertently moved it while
emptying the trash the previous night. Usually they put everything back into
its place. I was not particularly bothered by it, but I nevertheless replaced
the basket to its original position. The next morning as I arrived to work, Bobbi
met me in my cubicle just as I sat down. Was she watching for me I asked
want this kept here,” she said, pointing to the waste paper basket's new position.
I unthinkingly blurted.
you can see part of it from the hallway, and it looks tacky just sitting there,” she replied, adding a sudden smile
and nod of her head, “don't you think?”
slowly nodded my ascent, feeling like the guy in that “Suckers” video.
training, we were required only to take 30-minute lunches, and preparation for classes took a good portion of any day. Although overtime was prohibited, we were not “allowed” to work off of
the clock either. But six minutes?
I said nothing.
Bobbi replied after a long pause, resuming the inquisition, “you were supposed to clock out for the times between classes,
you know that. What about your time between five and seven?”
glanced at her screen and saw I had clocked out from 5:45 PM to 6:49 PM. “I
took an hour dinner.”
just shook her head. “You still have an hour unaccounted for.”
I caught myself. “Theodore was concerned about all of the mistakes in training,
and I worked with the other supervisors to make corrections and verify what they had been told. It wasn't like I was wasn't working-”
know you were working, but I never approved you to be on the clock between classes.
You should have called me to get permission.”
was after five. You were off.”
have my cell phone and my home number that I gave you at the last meeting, don't you? She retorted.
I'm supposed to call you every time I have to do something?”
tilted her head and smiled, and suddenly I knew why people hated spiders more than death.
I had seen that smile many, many times since she had taken control of the office, and it always boded ill. I recalled the time she and I walked into a training room where a visually impaired trainee was sitting,
scratching her service dog while the trainer was pointing out something from his computer.
she said in a long drawn out voice, smiling, “What are we doing?” Her
tone was warm and soothing, like the drone of a honeybees wings just before it lands and stings.
I'm scratching the dog and listening,” the young lady replied unknowingly.
Bobbi responded, adding, “Can you not pet the dog and pay attention? Thank
I pondered, did petting the animal possibly annoy her? Bobbi promptly called
the trainer out of the room. I felt uncomfortable just standing there while she
was suddenly cognizant of Jaycee.
be coy,” she replied, that same stone smile embossing her lined face. “You
know what I expect. There is absolutely no excuse for this much overtime.”
I began, charting into dangerous territory and not knowing where my words would take me.
“You always say that you're a blunt speaker, so may I be blunt?”
spread her hands wide and opened her mouth as if to speak.
waiting for a response, I continued. “No disrespect, but you scheduled
me a total of 59 hours. Even if I took no time to prepare or do any of the paperwork,
I would have still worked a minimum of 55 hours.”
why do you have those four hours of overtime? You should have e-mailed me if
you knew you were going to have overtime.”
you sent me an e-mail with overtime already scheduled. You-”
is your responsibility to inform me if you are scheduled for overtime. If you
knew you were going to be over 40 hours you should have found someone to fill in for you.”
you wrote the schedule!” my voice broke. “You told me there was no
one else to do the training!” As I peered at her face, I felt myself twisting
and falling in a headlong spin with no control.
was a time recently when Bobbi had come out from her office to search for something or someone among our cubicles. She walked back to my desk, smiled, and then exclaimed rather loudly, “My, it's hot in here! Aren't you hot?”
of us were in the cubes that morning, and no one had complained of the temperature.
“I'm comfortable. It seems fine to me.”
she replied with a signature smile, walking toward the thermostat, “It is hot.” Bobbi proceeded to turn the temperature on the thermostat down. I
rolled my chair into the narrow isle and watched incredulously as she turned toward the printer, made one copy, then headed
back into the other part of the building. The thermostat, we all knew, only controlled
the temperature in our small area and had no influence where she worked.
you're going back into your office!” I exclaimed just as the security door had shut, but she did not hear me, or if
she did, she never bothered to acknowledge. The other trainers simply sat there,
typing or casually shuffling papers. Rising from my seat, I walked the ten steps
to the thermostat. It was turned it down four degrees, and cool air had already
begun to blow from the vents in the ceiling. Promptly and without looking in
the direction of her office, I moved the digital temperature back to where it had been before she had changed it, then walked
toward my peers.
one replied. Perhaps they didn't know what that meant.
do you think about that?”
of what?” someone finally answered.
what she did!” I replied indignantly, adding, “Where does she get the balls?”
did she do?” my coworkers inquired, almost bored.
turned the temperature down.”
one said a word. I decided, then, to employ an example as a means of moving them
if I walked into your training room, said it was hot, and turned the temperature way down, then walked out? Would you just ignore it? Wouldn't you think it
was rude of me to just adjust the thermostat and leave?”
a long pause, one of them replied meekly, “Well, maybe she was hot.”
stood there silent, my mouth open. Although in the past I had witnessed trainers
adjust the temperature in another trainer's room as a joke, it was always met with quick derision and sometimes retaliation,
paying the offender in kind. Here, though, there was no response. Slowly, I crafted my words. “But she was leaving. She's went back to her office. She doesn't
even work out here, and she changed the temperature!”
couple of them just shrugged their shoulders and continued working, never turning to look at me, oblivious to everything that
had occurred. It was then that I smelled it, a scent that permeated the room
every time Bobbi suddenly appeared: fear. So what did I smell like?
know I am going to have to give you a WIN for the overtime. There's nothing else
I can do,” Bobbi replied as I sat in the chair motionless. Though the “WIN”
was the Company's “Improvement Notice,” it was the antithesis of a win.
We often joked how “winners always lose and losers always win.”
she presented the disciplinary form before me along with a pen, I glanced at Jaycee to witness the dumb smile on her face. This should have been done in private I remarked inwardly. I signed the WIN with my customary signature reserved for just such auspicious occasions, Mickey Mouse,
then rose from my chair. “Is there anything else?”
Bobbi replied with a smile, “just make sure you get this done.”
I'll go over there right now to finish up.”
you!” she said pleasantly, as though nothing in particular had taken place that morning.
“I really appreciate it!”
I walked out of her office, returning to my cubicle and pulling an empty box from under my desk. I had reserved it, too, for just such an occasion and chose to use it now.
Carefully removing all of my personal belongings from my space, I ignored the stares of the others around me as I emptied
my desk. I worked slowly, standing on my tip toes from time to time to glance
at the door leading to my boss's office, but no one came in or out. Now, it was
time to sit and wait.
didn't have to wait long. When I heard the familiar click of the security door
opening, I sprung to my feet and grabbed my box of personnel effects, the chair spring creaking loudly with my ascent. Peering over the top of the cubicles, I spied Jaycee's head and knew it was time to
everyone,” I said aloud, trusting the sycophant had heard me. I strode
cheerily down the hallway, pausing momentarily by the printer to ensure that Jaycee noticed me before moving on. Sometimes, I thought to myself, you have to use their predictability against them. I had
hoped that the message would be relayed soon.
took my time loading the few items in my car, glancing sideways toward the building's entrance to see if anyone was looking. As I suspected, Jaycee exited the building, her car keys in hand. She took slow, steady steps, her head turning first this way then that as though she was searching for
something or someone. I slammed my door loudly and chuckled at my ingenuity. That did the trick. Stepping into my
vehicle, I started the engine, put the car into reverse, and backed out of my parking space.
Jaycee began making her way into the parking lot, trying to be inconspicuous but failing miserably. I waved to her as I drove off, and she responded as though she hadn't even noticed it was me. Clever, I thought.
drove around the building once and did not see her though her car was still on the lot, so I knew my plan was working as well
as I had hoped. After driving to the gas station to fill my tank and buy a pop,
I drove leisurely to the other building, other cars passing me in annoyance, making certain that I gave the honey enough time
to sit. I knew the lack of certainty, the lack of control, would annoy
her considerably, and I was pleased with myself for having deciphered and manipulated her weaknesses so easily.
I recalled a time when our department's store room was filled with myriad folders, binders and other office supplies specifically
set aside for our use. While working on a project once to create up-to-date,
readily modifiable training binders for each newly hired employee, Bobbi had offered me the use of the binders and handed
me the otherwise jealously guarded Storeroom Key. Few trainers, I knew, had even
set eyes upon the fabled Key let alone touched it, and I could not help but feel a pang of smugness rise in my heart as I
dangled the key among my peers. It was as if Satan himself had presented me with
a token of power normally reserved for the greater daemons in Pandemonium. No
one could have access to any training materials or visual aids without the Key, and that meant going through Bobbi for approval.
had put together my training binders meticulously, spending nearly two days on the project.
Bobbi had commented on my effort at least twice and seemed genuinely pleased.
Although I can no longer recall exactly why now, I secretly held onto the Key for a few days longer, explaining to
Bobbi when she inquired into its whereabouts that I had already turned the Idol over to her some days past. I imagined what her reaction must have been when I had heard that she found the Artifact a week later in
Jaycee's desk drawer.
those binders which I had spent so much time carefully creating to supplement the training agenda were gone now. I had come into work one day and had been told that Bobbi grabbed another trainer and had cleaned the entire
training room, tossing out binders and all. When I began going through the recycle
bin to search for the materials with the intent of restoring them to their original place, the others told me Bobbi had specifically
sent for maintenance personnel to have them physically removed from the building and dumped in the outside garbage bin. It was the only way, I mused, Bobbi could be certain no one would recover the lost
materials. Had she read my mind?
turned up my radio and sang along carefree as my car pulled up into the parking lot.
Turning off the engine, I glanced at my watch. It was 9:26 AM. Five minutes, I mused. I'll give her another five
it was time. I exited my vehicle and walked into the one-story building, sliding
my badge into the card reader for access into one of the little-used entries. After
taking the time to relieve myself in the men’s room and lazily washing my hands very thoroughly, I entered the training
office and greeted my fellow trainers. Within moments, someone informed me that
Bobbi had called twice to inquire if I had arrived yet. Interesting, I thought. I ignored it and moved on to fulfilling my
When I showed up for work the following day, I found another e-mail in my inbox.
It was from Bobbi. “Come see me.” I ignored it. She discovered
me minutes after I had arrived, sitting quietly in my cubicle.
“Hi,” she greeted me with that familiar smile, “What happened?”
Tilting my head with furrowed brow, I feigned ignorance.
“Where’s all your stuff? I noticed it was missing yesterday
and couldn’t imagine why,” she continued, gesturing at my cubicle, obviously perplexed.
I had been waiting for this. “Oh, that? I packed it up. I figured it was easier that way if I did
“What do you mean?”
During one of the innumerable occasions when I was called into her office for a mild chastisement, I told Bobbi how
frustrated I was and that I was thinking maybe this job wasn’t for me. It
was a feeble attempt, I imagined, to hint that I might quit if not treated better, but her reaction to the implied threat
was one I had not expected. Bobbi spent the next ten minutes or so attempting
to allay my fears, calling them unfounded and offering me myriad reasons for hanging tough.
Is it guilt I asked myself or something
It was coming now, I had little doubt; I could see it by her face. The
supportive smile, the words of encouragement. I felt as though I was now floating,
soaring, controlling my flight. Is this
what Icarus felt like?
“I don’t want you to feel like your job’s in jeopardy,” she began after a few moments of silence. “The fact is, I need you here, and you’re good at what you do. Come with me to my office.”
After listening to an extended explanation of everything she planned to do in our department and where I fit into all
of it, I departed allowing her to believe that all was resolved, that my “fears” were, after all, unfounded. Contrition, I generally found, was inversely proportional to the length of her speech.
Though I did all I could to let her believe that she had convinced me of whatever it was I was supposed to have been convinced,
Bobbi’s conciliatory chat exceeded 20 minutes.
“And I expect to see all of your belongings back tomorrow, OK?”
I returned the smile and nodded my assent. Sure, I thought to myself, I’ll get right on it. Had I actually won?
“Oh, and one more thing,” she added as I turned to make my way out of her office. “I need you to training an evening class next week.”
Pausing a moment before turning to face her, I said, “OK. But I
have college classes at night.”
“It’ll only be for three weeks,” she replied, smiling broadly.
“But you told me I didn’t have to work nights this semester. You
knew I had night-”
“I’m sure we’ll find a way to work around it,” she answered quickly, adding, “Thanks!”
I stood motionless, an intensely uncomfortable feeling rising deep in my belly.
“I’m already going to miss a week because of the business trip you’re sending me on in October.”
Grinning even wider, she responded, “We’ll talk,” then turned to her computer and began working busily.
Returning quietly to my cubicle, the chair creaking heavily as I abruptly sat down, it was then that I caught the scent
it; I knew what I smelled like.